To the uninitiated, Pittsburgh, PA may be a mystery. The nickname “The Steel City” could mean that this city at the confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers is still clouded in smoke from mills that produce tons of metal every day.
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Black and gold may be the dominant colors in town, but Chuck Wichrowski, owner of Baum Blvd. The automotive industry is realizing that green is becoming increasingly popular.
“We exist here in the midst of five different universities and many leading medical institutions, which include both hospitals and research institutions,” says Wichrowski. “The people who inhabit these places are all environmentally minded, so following environmentally friendly practices is a smart business.”
Wichrowski says he opened his location on Baum Boulevard. Pittsburgh in 2003 after owning and operating two different gas stations since 1989. “It started with two people and a service clerk. And it has gradually evolved, “he says,” and now we have three service writers and seven technicians. “
One of those early employees is from Portland, OR, and remembers Wichrowski. “Mike Schoenfeld was very concerned about all the things we did in the store that were dirty. Because I shared the same concerns, we started thinking about how we could do the same things, achieve the same goals, and reduce the amount of waste, plastic, and chemicals. We worked together to analyze how we can do a good job and protect the environment. “
At the time, Wichrowski says, the efforts went unnoticed. “We didn’t advertise it or anything – it was just an internal thing we did.”
Over the years, he says, his search for better practices has continued.
“We partnered with Carnegie Mellon University to convert Honda Civics into electricity. We did most of the mechanical work, e.g. For example, removing the motors and the fuel tank section that would not be necessary if you had installed an electric motor in a car, ”explains Wichrowski. “We gave them a lot of advice on vehicle safety.”
Wichrowski adds that the program has resulted in the development of several test vehicles. “Since they converted everything by hand, it cost them around $ 20,000 to do each one. Until they reach the end of their scholarship, you can buy a Nissan Leaf for the same price with air conditioning and a warranty. So that has faded, but they sold a few of these to true believers. “
According to Wichrowski, many members of the university’s development team have stayed in the area and looked into other advanced technologies. Its store endeavors have also become more ambitious.
In 2013 Tree Blvd. Automotive installed a charging station for electric cars. “We did this for two main reasons: The first is to demonstrate to other companies and institutions that it is very easy to provide a car charging service to their customers and employees. Second, it is part of our ongoing efforts to support and maintain vehicles using alternative fuels, ”says Wichrowski.
The shop is now actively promoting its environmental practices and recognizing its customers’ concern for safe practices. “While automobile repair is a dirty business, we do our part to keep our business clean,” the store’s website states. “Our environmental officer, Ryan Hart, works with engineers, management and customers to identify best practices and minimize our negative impact on the environment.”
Hart explains: “Our charger for electric cars is free and available around the clock. Our clean-burning waste oil stove lowers energy costs throughout the winter. We use refillable containers for brake fluid as well as refillable containers for all of our bulk oil. Another practice we introduced around four years ago was switching from paper inspection forms to an online catalog. This makes all of our inspections easily searchable and conservative, saving 5,000 sheets of paper per year. “
Due to COVID, the waiting room on Baum Blvd. was practically empty, although Wichrowski says the store performs a significant number of contactless pickup and drop-off services. Hart says when customers return they will see a commitment to sustainability again. “We mainly use coffee cups for our refreshments, which are cleaned in our dishwasher in the lobby. However, if a customer wants a take-away cup instead of styrofoam, we use biodegradable cups with recyclable lids. “
Wichrowski says the past year has been challenging because keeping customers safe has had to put some of its zero-waste goals on hold. “Unfortunately, given the mask mandates, the personal protective equipment we have to use, and the fact that we spray everything with chemicals and wipe everything off, it’s onerous because we’re doing a lot here to increase waste during the pandemic. We look forward to the day when we can get back to the normal things we do. “
Wichrowski recognizes the business benefits of his efforts.
“Almost every utility company has some kind of grant program, at least here. If you switch to something that cuts your electricity, even to the point where you have an old fridge, you get paid to get rid of it and get a modern one that uses less electricity. “The electric car population is strong in Pittsburgh, says Wichrowski, and the potential is even greater. “Given the demographics here, these people buy a lot of Teslas. We have a Google outpost and now we have probably 200 Teslas in our customer base. “
The real challenge, he says, is learning how to make money using them. “They require very little maintenance. However, after the warranty period at Tesla has expired, we find that they have a lot of problems with the brakes. Especially in this climate, the problem with the Tesla’s brakes is that people use regenerative brakes, just come to a standstill and don’t use the brakes too often. You tend to grab the brackets. We see the brakes release from the carrier plates. Since they never get used to it or pull on the rotors, they overheat and the braking material breaks down.
“After all, Tesla recommended – I don’t know if it’s just here or nationwide – that you have to take all the brakes apart, clean and lubricate everything once a year. So when they need the brakes, they actually work. “
Wichrowski says his business has also replaced batteries in hybrid vehicles – some customers may be reluctant to price, but compared to the cost of replacing a gasoline engine, a $ 2,400 battery can be considered a bargain. “And it’s something that people want to do to keep their electric cars running,” says Wichrowski. “Many of our customers have about 200,000 miles on their Prius.”
According to Wichrowski, Pennsylvania’s stringent safety inspections are no less demanding for an electric car. “Of course they are not involved in the emissions tests. But they still need to have working brakes, the suspension needs to be firm, and the cars need to have decent tires – that’s actually a big problem at Tesla [owners]. They burn tires very quickly. The cars are heavy and everyone wants to show how fast they are. We’ll see her with completely bare tires in 10,000 miles. “
Wichrowski firmly believes in environmental responsibility. In addition to sponsoring Carnegie Melon University’s Charge Car Program, he is a board member of the Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities.
Regardless of what they drive, according to customers, Wichrowski deserves the best service his business can provide. “We know people are afraid to deal with car repairs and we are working to reduce their stress by answering all of their questions and fully explaining what we are doing to solve their problem. In any case, we strive to give the customer the assurance that our work is being carried out professionally and always with the best sustainable practices. ”